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Michael A. Stackpole Headshot

Dispatch From the Police State

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Dear World,

You've discovered Arizona is a police state. What took you so long?

We've had Joe Arpaio here for over a dozen years. He's been setting up chain gangs, raiding the wrong houses, killing prisoners, treating dogs better than prisoners he hasn't killed and turning the Maricopa County Sheriff's office into a paramilitary force. He and the Maricopa County attorney have waged war on a local newspaper, using tactics that would make Vladimir Putin blush.

I don't remember any threats about boycotting Phoenix or Maricopa County because of him. No one opted out of attending the Phoenix Open or the Superbowl. No one protested when the Diamondbacks were in the World Series or the Cardinals in the Superbowl. In fact, all you did was watch Joe Arpaio on reality TV. You pointed and laughed at the Arizona hicks and the bloated, egotistical publicity-whore who considers himself the next coming of Wyatt Earp.

And when the Minutemen started patrolling the border, there weren't any calls for boycotts. Not a one. Folks derided the Minutemen as white supremacists and gun nuts. But they were our nuts, safely far away from the East Coast. Folks who couldn't even find Arizona on a map (it is flyover country, after all), tsked and giggled at the idiots who think they're living in the Wild West.

Why is it that Arizona elected a legislature full of the crypto-racists and mono-synaptic morons who passed that immigration bill? In great part it's because the rest of the country takes its used parents and grandparents and parks them here, in God's Waiting Room. You settle them into communities where they drive golf-carts because you know they'd be seriously dangerous behind the wheel of a real car. You're sick and tired of listening to them praise Ronald Reagan and pine for the days when they voted for Eisenhower, so you warehouse them with us.

And let them vote.

We can't pass a tax override or bond issue to fund education in this state because all your castoffs go to the polls and say, "I paid for my kids' education in Connecticut," or whatever frozen state they came from, "and I'm not going to pay for it here." Thanks for being community-minded. If you'd kept them home, where your votes could nullify their votes, we could actually have a functional democracy in Arizona.

The immigration bill, without a doubt, is completely outrageous. It'll lead to profiling, and not just racial. Arizona has an incredibly diverse population. Cops will be having to ask Sihks and Muslems and Africans and Canadians and Irish and Chinese and all sorts of folks, in addition to Hispanics, for their papers. Especially heinous is the fact that non-US citizens who have joined the Marines and are stationed in Yuma -- men and women who are willing to fight and die for this country -- will be subject to search and jail time if they fail to carry the proper papers. The law is a disgusting travesty, and the legislators who passed it should die of shame -- but that would require intelligence, a conscience, and even the tiniest spark of human decency and compassion.

But let's also be realistic about this bill. When it goes into effect in a couple of months, there will immediately be a lawsuit filed in federal court. A federal judge will issue an injunction. Five or six years from now the case will reach the Supreme Court. The Court will rule, as it always does, that immigration is the domain of the federal government, and the law will be struck down.

And the very nano-second that injunction is issued, every single person calling for a boycott will sniff self-righteously and consider his work done. (Don't kid yourself, you know it's true.) Those folks will pack up to visit their parents down here during the dead of the winter, and get a couple of rounds of golf in as they go -- all the while feeling smug about having done something.

Something which amounted to nothing.

The one thing that's being missed in this firestorm of outrage is that this is not an immigration issue.

It is a national security issue.

Arizona is the kidnapping capital of the United States. Why? We have coyotes -- traffickers in human beings -- trucking people in by the dozens. They come into the state, get stashed in "safe houses" -- there's some irony for you -- and held until someone ransoms them. America was up in arms about eighteen foreign nationals hijacking four planes a decade ago, and we're getting dozens of undocumented people pouring into this state on a daily basis. These people are coming here for the same reason all of our ancestors did: to have a better life. The only way they can swing it is to be packed into the modern equivalent of slave ships to sneak across the border.

But people aren't the only thing moving north of the border. The same ease with which hundreds of pounds of illicit drugs move north, explosives and other weapons could be transported into the United States. It's not difficult to image dedicated enemies of the state -- be they foreign terrorists or domestic protesters -- arming themselves in manner and doing serious damage. Were that to happen, all of a sudden Joe Arpaio and the Minutemen will become Superman and the Justice League of America.

Arizona has been screaming about our porous border since before 9-11. We're the folks who have coyotes and drug traffickers moving through our backyards, shooting our citizens. It's not the undocumented workers causing the problems, it's the criminals guiding them. And if immigration and, more importantly, homeland defense are the domain of the federal government, shouldn't the federal government be doing something? Hell, it's harder to get through security at an airport than it is to cross the border, and if that fact makes you feel safe, you really aren't paying attention.

I certainly hope that everyone who will boycott Arizona will be truly honest, and will bear the courage of their convictions. Only eat the fresh vegetables that you grow and pick. Bus your own tables next time you eat out. Do your own landscaping, wash your own clothes, clean your own house and watch your own kids. The border problem is not Arizona's problem, it's America's problem. Boycotting Arizona may get the law changed, but that's dealing with a symptom, not the underlying pathology. Until the federal government actually secures our borders, no one is safe, and if folks don't feel safe, a police state can look awful damned good.

The people of Arizona understand this bill for what it is -- a horribly misguided attempt by legislators to call attention to a situation that's scaring the hell out of their constituents. We know the backlash will crush the economy. That fact will be incredibly effective in stemming the flow of undocumented workers, since they'll just go where the jobs are. And me, I'm practicing my Irish brogue so I can tell any cop who asks, "Sorry, boyo, don't have me papers. Left them at the IRA meeting." But we all also understand that if the same outrage that will organize the boycotts would be turned on Washington to force action on the real issue, we might actually get this problem solved.